Parks And Wreck

April 29, 2013

The California state legislature is currently entertaining a bill that would make it legal for homeless people to live in city parks, sleep in parked cars, to cook, bathe and relieve themselves on public property, and to panhandle with impunity.

The Homeless Person’s Bill of Rights and Fairness Act (AB 5), the brainchild of Assemblyman Tom Ammiano of San Francisco, is a monstrosity of run-on sentences, grandiose pronouncements, and baffling non sequiturs, all composed in a verbose, convoluted & euphemistic language that only superficially resembles English.  In and of itself, the composition of AB 5 shows why our nation is suffering slow strangulation by legislation.

The actual proposals and underlying intent of AB 5 are extremist, threaten to disrupt civic cohesiveness, erode the quality of life, and undermine the rule of law, while offering little of substance to the homeless.

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Homeless Haven

With their mild climates, profusion of charitable groups, and lax attitudes,  California’s cities prove hospitable to those who live permanently on the street.  Current PC conventions refer to such people as “the homeless”. In the past, they’ve been known as hobos, vagrants, or bums (derived from the German Bummler, or ‘drifter’, and akin to the Irish term ‘traveler’.)   “Homeless” was coined to elicit empathy by conjuring the image of otherwise respectable people & families temporarily displaced by bad fortune.   Homeless families, though, tend to avail themselves of shelters, and their average stay is three weeks — enough time for them to sort out their problem and arrange for a place to stay.

The vast majority of people living on the street do so on a permanent basis.  Most are addicts and/or mentally ill, some are runaways.  For various reasons, they decline offers of temporary shelter, and cannot or will not work toward finding a regular home.  Homelessness is their preferred state of existence. A surprising number of individuals and advocacy groups feel that weakening or abolishing vagrancy laws is an adequate solution to their problems.

Mental Diarrhea as Legislation

AB 5 begins — though it’s hard to say where or even whether Ammiano’s mental diarrhea has a beginning, middle or end — with the fallacious argument that, since California had unjust ordinances in the past (e.g. the so-called Ugly Laws prohibiting “people with ‘unsightly or disgusting’ disabilities to appear in public”), any ordinance that makes it hard to be a vagrant is also unjust. He notes that, while the California constitution prohibits discrimination based on race, sex, disability, orientation etc., a person’s “housing status” is not covered.  If that was Ammiano’s real concern, a one-sentence bill adding the words “housing status” would have sufficed — and probably already been passed on a voice vote.

Next comes a litany of the mistreatments endured by the homeless, who’ve been denied:

  • “Housing and employment as a result of not having a fixed or residential mailing address“;
  • “The ability to make certain purchases or enter certain contests as a result of not having a fixed or residential mailing address….”  (No Publishers’ Clearing House for you!);
  • “Access to safe, clean restrooms, water, and hygienic supplies … especially with the proliferation of closures of public restrooms”;

And so on. Public shelters are chided for not properly respecting the “dignity” of lesbians, trans-people, pet owners, et al.  The lack of adequate mental health services is also mentioned in passing, but merits no specific provisions in the bill.

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The Privileged Underprivileged

Despite repetitious, long-winded assertions that new legislation is required to give the homeless equal protection under the law, AB 5 would actually afford vagrants special rights and immunities not enjoyed by the rest of us.  These would include the right to:

  • Remain in any public space “24 hours a day, seven days a week,” even after the “homed” must exit;
  • Stand, kneel, squat, sit, lie down or sleep indefinitely on benches, sidewalks, etc.;
  • Place or set down an unlimited quantity of personal possessions in public indefinitely;
  • Store scavenged goods on public property for reuse and recycling;
  • Representation by a public attorney for offenses & citations for which “homed” citizens do not receive free counsel;
  • Prepare and share food, bathe, and attend to personal hygiene in public.  The phrase “urinating in public” was struck in committee, but the broader provisions of the bill would still legalize it.  (It’s a bit amazing that in the midst of drafting AB 5, Ammiano forgot that humans also produce large quantities of feces.)

Civil servants, who on their own initiative allow the homeless to make use of public buildings or who distribute public supplies to them, would be immune from punishment.  Panhandling would also be decriminalized, on the grounds that the homeless have a “right to self-employment.”

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Parks and Wreck

Panhandling and vagrancy have long been banned by cities, for good reason: they are anti-social behaviors that make a city unpleasant to live in or to visit.

Panhandling is begging, often done in an aggressive, threatening manner, something I’ve personally experienced.  Traveling by BART to San Francisco one Friday night years ago, I exited onto a deserted Market Street and was immediately accosted by a panhandler.  He ignored my “sorry, no change on me”, got into my personal space and started demanding dollar bills.  I spent several, tense minutes staring him down, bracing for the fight he alluded to, before my ride showed up.  Had I been a tourist, instead of visiting a new girlfriend, I likely would have written off San Francisco for good.

Vagrancy defeats the entire purpose of public parks and other areas: to provide aesthetically-pleasing spaces to be shared and enjoyed by all.  Vagrants abuse and monopolize a public space by converting it into their private space, and in doing so, spoil its appeal and accessibility to others.

Yet, under AB 5, A city would be permitted to implement its local ordinances only if:

  1. Its county provides 24-hour “health and hygiene centers” for the homeless, and;
  2. The municipality does not lie within a federally-designated “area of concentrated unemployment or underemployment or an area of labor surplus”, and;
  3. “The public housing waiting list maintained by the county contains fewer than 50 persons.”

As the League of California Cities points out, all of these requirements are beyond the control of a city.  Further, “AB 5 would create costly mandates, blur the line between local jurisdiction authority, and undermine the local decision making process.”

Now, this might be Tom Ammiano’s way of indirectly pressuring for social reforms, but it sure is a dumbass way to run a government.

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The Beggars of Calcutta, California

Some on the Right would like to force vagrants to ‘take personal responsibility’ for themselves.  The thing is, they have taken personal responsibility, and living on the street was what they came up with!  These people are constitutionally incapable of doing better.  If a quadriplegic fell overboard, you wouldn’t shout, ‘it’s sink or swim, buddy!’

Science writer Malcolm Gladwell explored the case of one homeless man in Denver, a substance abuser with personality disorders, who after years of repeated run-ins with the police and visits to the ER, froze to death.  Gladwell ran the numbers on the cost of the public services expended on this one man, and discovered it would have been cheaper for the city to have given him an apartment and a full-time caretaker for life.

One might imagine such a ‘socialist’ approach appealing to Ammiano and his  ilk.  In truth, they are no different from the brahmins of Calcutta, perfectly fine with their lowest caste living in squalor.

A truly compassionate society would never consider permission to camp in parks a valid solution.  Instead, vagrants would be removed from public spaces and placed in shelters.  This would be compulsory, for the very act of choosing permanent homelessness indicates an incapacity to care or reason for oneself.  Rather than being tossed spare change to buy Night Train, these fellow human beings would receive — in addition to proper shelter and basic amenities — professional treatment, counseling, and support for their addictions, mental conditions, or familial issues.

AB 5 is not a real solution, and it’s certainly not compassionate. At best, it’s demagoguery; at worst, a plan to convert our precious parks and plazas into lawless refugee camps.  No sane society would contemplate such a step.

(c) 2013 by Matt Cavanaugh.  All rights reserved.

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A Tale of Two Amendments

April 23, 2013

In West Virginia yesterday, a 14 year old junior high student, Jared Marcum, was ordered by a teacher to remove his t-shirt, which the teacher considered offensive.  Marcum refused, and attempted to explain to the teacher his right to wear said shirt.  His fellow students in the cafeteria stood on benches and tables and began chanting in support of Marcum.  The police were dispatched and Marcum arrested for “disrupting the school process.”  Here’s what he wore:

nra_shirt_cr

The school’s dress code prohibits

  • Clothing and accessories that display profanity, violence, discriminatory messages or sexually suggestive phrases;
  • Clothing that displays advertisements for any alcohol, tobacco, or drug product.

Mesh tops and dog collars are also (praise be!) banned.  But nothing about political statements or images of guns per se.
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That Offensive Bill of Rights

It’s impossible to know the full thought process behind the teacher’s action.  What we will be officially told is that he was merely using his discretion to prevent anyone from being offended, or from an argument or dispute arising.  The preposterous claim that Marcum “almost incited a riot” is a flimsy fig leaf, indeed.  It was the teacher’s response to the shirt, not the shirt itself, that sparked the raucous but harmless protest.

Two observations:

1) You can’t offend-proof the entire world.  There’ll always be somebody that’ll be butthurt by something  — a crucifix around someone’s neck might annoy a jew, while a “Jesus Never Existed” t-shirt is bound to steam a christian.  Does this teacher comes down equally hard on students who might offend Bengals fans by wearing a Steelers jersey?;

2) Marcum’s t-shirt was a simple affirmation of:

“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

(Please tell me this was not a Civics teacher!)

Marcum’s interpretation of the Second Amendment likely differs from that of the teacher, other students, and almost definitely me.  His support for the Bill of Rights, however, ought be shared by all of us, and his free exercise of speech not be abridged.
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Education or Indoctrination?

The Right complains that the majority of school teachers are liberals, and that they are indoctrinating their students.   The first is an irrefutable fact; the second, I always considered false conjecture.  I’m not so sure anymore. Last year, we heard the (yes, Civics) teacher wrongly tell her students that it was a federal crime to speak out against the president.  Now we have this.

When I was a schoolchild during the era of Nixon Ascendant, it was a comfort when a few of my teachers, always scrupulously neutral in front of the class, clandestinely whispered to me that they were against the war, too.  But, now that I think about it, there was subtle indoctrination as well.  I remember lectures on how wonderful the American Melting Pot was, and being led in song, us little suburban white kids swaying and holding hands with the little bused-in black kids as we belted out “We Shall Overcome”.

That message of accepting diversity and rejecting racism was the same I got at home (sans the singing and hand-holding.)   Isn’t that where those sorts of messages belong?  Did my elementary school teachers have the obligation or the right to countermand the message other classmates were receiving from their parents, that the coons and the spics were lazy, worthless, and to blame for everything?  Those are not rhetorical questions.
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The Care and Feeding of Your Free Speech Rights

The right to free speech is not absolute in all circumstances or at all times.  The courts have uniformly ruled that, so long as a citizen has access to the exercise of free speech in some areas, it can be limited in others, like a school.   Nor are things like slander, libel, or inciting a riot (for real) — or that most hackneyed of Civics teacher examples, shouting ‘fire’ in a crowded theatre — covered under free speech.  Schools in particular also have a compelling reason to limit the extent of confrontational speech to deter bullying and disruption.

It’s a fine line between proscribing slurs or confrontational behavior, and imposing a cultural or political status quo.  For the greater part, the teachers of my youth did an exemplary job navigating that line.  There are alarming indicators that many of today’s teachers, along with progressives at large, have strayed far over the line.
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“It Is Known”

In George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones saga, the primitive Dothraki people confirm each statement, whether fact, lore, superstition, wives’ tale or wild rumor, with “it is known.”   Such unquestioning absolutism is rife among the more strident segment of the Progressive Left  (for whom I have coined the term “proglodyte”.)

In the minds of  proglodytes, “it is known” that their view on an host of issues, from gun control to abortion, from the meaning of gender to immigration, is established fact.  Proglodytes also view the world in black and white, with everything “We” believe as Good, and everything “They” believe as Evil.  This leads them to fallaciously attribute, for example, a solidity to their opinion that more gun control is a good thing (and should be taught?) on par with the solidity of the fact that Evolution is true, and that it, but not Intelligent Design or Creationism, should taught.

We cannot, nor should we, prevent teachers from ever influencing their students.  A good Civics teacher would be teaching Heller, and stimulate, not stifle, debate by asking his or her students to compare the opinion and dissent to their own interpretation of the Second Amendment.  In other words, to encourage them to think for themselves.
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Anyone who espouses an idea must be willing to let that idea stand the test of debate and refutation.  They must be willing to entertain opposing arguments and to permit the expression of antithetical ideas.   The banning of a T-shirt may seem innocuous, but it is the first step down the slippery slope to fascism.


(c) 2013 by Matt Cavanaugh.  All rights reserved.


Letting Go of ‘tamerlane’

April 19, 2013

You all know me as ‘tamerlane’, but my real name is Matt Cavanaugh.

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My ‘Nym
When I first began commenting and blogging online in the Spring of 2008, I followed the common practice of adopting a screen name.   I like to engage in serious discussions on politics and religion, two subjects with a power to enrage people like no others.  I do so in a venue — the internet  — that, like road rage, provides an anonymity that too often encourages people to act like boors or even monsters.  With practices like “doxxing” and online stalking, not to mention whatever real-life acts that might result from chance interactions with political or religious fanatics, discretion dictated adopting a pseudonym.

I’m a small businessman dependent on the continued good will of a close-knit community.  I doubt that many of my clients, vendors, colleagues or neighbors share my political or religious views.  I’m an atheist in a predominantly religious culture that seems to rate our morals as just slightly less depraved than those of child molesters.  I wanted to avoid any possibility of my views causing friction in this sphere.

Finally, noms de plume are a long & respected tradition.  Having one of my own allowed me to segregate my iconoclastic views & often acerbic style from my overall everyday personality, which is far more mainstream and mellow.  Interestingly, my friends and I often discuss my online persona in the third person, as in ‘what did tamerlane write this time?’ or, ‘was that as you or as tamerlane?’

When I first selected a name, I was tempted to use something like “S. Adams” or “Publius”, the pseudonym of the Federalist Papers’ authors.  I rejected these as overly pretentious.  Instead, I settled on the slightly self-deprecating choice of a 14th century Mongol conqueror.  My decision-making process was, I must admit, a fairly hasty one.  The primary reason I chose ‘tamerlane’ was simply that, like me, “Timur the Lame” was an horseman with a bum leg.

At first, I was occasionally chided for taking the name of “a brutal conqueror and despot.”  (Would you like me better if I’d chosen a gentle conqueror and despot?)  Over time, ‘tamerlane’ the commenter and writer became a recognized entity in his own right.  When friends who first met me online now call or write, they as often as not address me as ‘Tamer’ or ‘T’.  Maybe I should’ve put more thought into the name, but it did the job, and it stuck.

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My Town
During the past few hours, I’ve been thinking a whole lot about the name I write under.  Many of you know that I’m originally from Boston.  I’m proud of my hometown and protective of its witty, warm people and its reputation as a great place to visit and to live.  I’ve been closely following the news of this week’s bombings.  I now live in a rural setting on the other side of the country, and no one I know was injured or killed.  Yet I find the attack has upset me on a very personal level.  That was my town; those were my people.  Don’t you ever fuck with my people.

The news of the hunt for the two bombing suspects has unfolded at a rapid pace over the past night and into this morning.  The suspects murdered one policeman and put another in the hospital.  While fleeing, they threw bombs out the car window.  I didn’t need a map to trace their route; I’ve driven or strolled there many times myself.  One bomber is dead, the other is still on the lam.  They’re brothers, named Dzhokhar and Tamerlan.

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A Legacy of … Nothing
Tamerlane is a popular name in the former Soviet republics of central Asia, where these brother bombers were born (Chechnya) & raised (Kyrgyzstan) before showing up in my hometown.  The people there, stifled for centuries by — and now willingly falling back in thrall to — the mind-deadening bullshit of islam, have little to be proud of.  No great authors to speak of, no inventors, no magnificent works of art or edifices of grandeur.  Even the ugly, little capitals of their ugly, little dictatorships were built by the Soviets.  About all they have to instill pride is the faded, misunderstood memory of a 14th century Mongol conqueror named Tamerlane.  So they erect equestrian statues in Tamerlane Squares and steer their sputtering Ladas around the potholes of Tamerlane Boulevards.  They name their kids ‘Tamerlan’ and dream hazily of the day when they, too, will march under the crescent banner to sack the cities of the infidels.

At least the original Tamerlane had an appreciation for the knowledge and culture he was appropriating.  A brilliant strategist, he was

… steadfast in mind … he did not care for jesting or lying; wit and trifling pleased him not; truth, even were it painful, delighted him….

Tamerlane taught himself to speak several languages, had histories and the ancient classics read to him while he dined, and even invented a version of chess.  Contemporaries described him as

highly intelligent and very perspicacious, addicted to debate and argument about what he knows and also about what he does not know.

Although nominally a moslem, Tamerlane blended sufism with Mongol shamanism.    Religion to him seemed more an useful tool for justifying his actions than guiding them.  He established his capital at Samarkand, embellished it with the riches and art he’d plundered, and assembled scholars and craftsman there to transform his barbarian empire into a civilized race.  That dream died with him.
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Envy and Resentment

Tamerlan the bomber didn’t want to embrace Western civilization, he wanted to smash it.  Unlike Boston, international students don’t flock to the great learning institutions of the Caucasus.  Unlike Boston, modern Samarkand could never host a sporting event attracting participants from a hundred nations, because no one in their right mind would ever willingly travel to that shithole.

The bomber brothers were welcomed by Boston and its people.  They were given a good education there, even a college scholarship.  They could have become real Bostonians had they wanted — sang ‘Dirty Water’ with us at Fenway, transposed the ‘r’s at the end of words, watched the fireworks from the Esplanade, even worn green with us on Saint Paddy’s or grabbed a sausage on Saint Anthony’s.  They could have partaken of everything our town, built by successive waves of immigrants, had to offer them: the museums, the culture, the music, the history, the learning, the cuisine, and yes, the public traditions and sporting events.  They rejected and despised everything Boston had to offer, because they had nothing to offer back.

I’ve got Paul Revere, Isabella Stewart Gardner, Leonard Nimoy and Arthur Fiedler to be proud of. I’ve got Samuel Morse, Donna Summer, Robert Gould Shaw and Yaz.  Louisa May Alcott, Winslow Homer, Charles Bulfinch and Helen Keller.  The bomber brothers had nothing of value to inspire them, no one worthy to emulate.  Not even Timur the Lame.  All they had was envy and resentment.
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Just Me

Like “Adolf”, the name “Tamerlan(e)” can never again be seen without negative connotations.  Miscreant bombers don’t deserve its historic legacy, but I want in no way for my words and thoughts to be misconstrued with their ignorance and their hate.  So it’s time to let ‘tamerlane’ go.  I might consider adopting a new pseudonym later, but for now, at least, I’m just me.


(c) 2013 by Matt Cavanaugh.  All rights reserved.